06/08/2011 08:43 pm ET | Updated Aug 08, 2011

We're Never Done

It's a popular consensus that improvement is achieved by evaluating, measuring your success, and then working to improve. These are simple steps districts and unions can take across the country in the movement for education reform.

Those steps are often talked about as risky. But in Pittsburgh, we've been forced to take risks to improve the chances for our students' success, and it's had a positive payoff.

So what did we do? 1) We focused turning adversarial relationships into collaborative efforts and 2) we are empowering our teachers.

Previously, we were mired in the old adversarial dynamic between the school system and the union, and it was hindering the progress needed for teachers, students, and the city as a whole.

We had come close to striking. The PFT and the Superintendent decided to cut through the clutter and sit down together. Instead we said: let's have a dialogue. Let's not dwell on the labor-management dynamic. Let's act as if our only constituency was education itself -- teachers, students, and the community.

While some might confuse compromise with weakness, the opposite is true. We know that real progress is never possible when one side is unyielding to new ideas and change or too afraid to address them.

Candidly, it wasn't easy. We had and still have disagreements. There were -- and there remain -- difficult economic realities. But continuing to have an open dialogue on these and other issues is critically important in order to be effective.

The PFT is also involving our teachers in a new collaborative process. We pursued ways to strengthen their role and tell the story of their impact outside the classroom and in the broader Pittsburgh community. We insisted they have a seat at the table in ways that were not done before. For example, 200 teachers were directly involved in creating new curricula, developing a new system of teacher evaluation to make them more comprehensive and fair, training their peers and participating in grassroots committees.

Why? Because nobody knows more about what's going on in the classroom than teachers do. They make a huge difference in the community and in each student's life.

The results from the PFT's new platform for teacher involvement -- and our commitment to open communication -- are undeniable. We've had a turnaround in Pittsburgh to be proud of. And Pittsburgh teachers deserve the credit for doing what is needed daily to restore our city's education system.

The re-energized dynamic in Pittsburgh was sparked by the PFT's and district's leadership, supported by the school system and empowered by the teachers. Other participants, including several community leaders, were also an important part of this success story including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which granted Pittsburgh $40 million dollars to make sure the support for teachers, their students and their futures continues to be possible. We are proud of this recognition.

We're also proud of the most recent recognition from the Aspen Institute, which just released a research paper chronicling our pursuit of an ambitious reform agenda. To read the full paper, "Forging a New Partnership: The Story of Teacher Union and School District Collaboration in Pittsburgh," click here.

Because of our teachers' union, education reform is happening right here in Pittsburgh, working for the people of this great city. Our work is never done, but we are proud to set an example for what can be achieved in other districts across the country.